Sun, Jun 09, 2013 - Page 12 News List

China in 60 minutes

An exhibition of video, curated by Beijing’s Dong Bingfeng, explores the human and inhuman face of contemporary China

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

The last video, Yang Fudong’s (楊福東) The Nightman Cometh (2011), presents the greatest enigma of the group. It is a gorgeously filmed black and white parable of a medieval Chinese general encountering, in a snow-covered battle camp, mysterious figures during the night. Though the scenes progress like a narrative, there is no real story, only a sequence of dazzling and symbolically suggestive tableau. It is also the only work in the show that seems it is not trying to explain China to the West (or perhaps more accurately, to rich Western art collectors.)

Yang catapulted to recognition following his inclusion in the 2007 Venice Biennale, which presented his five-hour film Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, a work similar in style to Nightman. Seven Intellectuals reframed self-exiled third century Taoist scholars as China’s new rootless and self-absorbed intellectual class.

In The Nightman Cometh, in addition to the general, there are also a Chinese princess and a dandy young couple perhaps from 1930s Shanghai — the beau wears a white suit and the belle a modern qipao. The encounter of these four characters is indeed baffling, as there is no dialogue and, aside from one scene where the modern woman grabs her fella’s handkerchief and weeps, and the final scene in which the general uncertainly rides off, nothing happens.

But is there really no story? As a Westerner, the experience of watching Yang’s films is like that of viewing an ancient Chinese scroll or a temple carving. One can appreciate the beauty, but one cannot decipher the iconography, and as a result, one experiences a total loss of critical authority. But even Dong admits Yang’s work is “open-ended and inconclusive” and that the artist “mostly portrays his own generation of individuals in their late 20s and early 30s, young people who seem confused and appear to hover between the past and present.”

Perhaps, then, it is better to read Yang’s work as a pastiche of the cinema China never had. Some have compared Yang’s work to the Chinese cinema of the pre-communist 1940s, and his films can be understood as an impressionistic re-imagining of a modernism lost to Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. It is as if Yang is speaking for a generation that rejects the official “glorious” past of the communist party, inventing a different vision of their own.

Exhibition Notes

WHAT: People’s Park

WHEN: Until June 16

WHERE: TheCube Project Space (立方計劃空間), 2F, Ln 136,13, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段136巷1弄13號2樓), tel: (02) 2368-9418


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